12 May 2016

Dunedin's heart 'needs more love'

8:54 am on 12 May 2016

Central Dunedin retailers say the city's heart needs more love from the city council.

They are launching the "Heart of Dunedin" initiative at a private function tonight.

George Street, the main street of Dunedin.

Dunedin's George Street. Retailers say the shopping strip along the street to the Octagon needs more council attention. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

It has been modelled on similar groups operating in many other cities including Auckland, Wellington and, more recently, Queenstown.

Spokesman Simon Eddy said the main shopping strip along George Street to the Octagon had not had a fair slice of council investment and attention.

Mr Eddy said Dunedin was unique in not having suburban malls, but George Street had been left to become dowdy while projects such as the warehouse precinct to the south got all the focus.

Some prime retail spots on Dunedin's main street remain empty.

Some prime retail spots on Dunedin's main street remain empty. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

At lunchtime on George Street yesterday there were plenty of people about - but also at least four empty shops visible on the two most valuable shopping blocks.

Shoppers told RNZ News they used the area a lot, but saw it could do with a lift.

"Well there's some empty shops, so I wonder about the rents, I guess," one woman said.

"It's looking a bit drab. Everyone disappears into the mall of course, they don't walk up and down past the shops on George Street itself. But it does needs some attention," said another.

Retail consultant Chris Wilkinson, from First Retail Group, is advising the new group and said Dunedin's centre had a lot of promise and wonderful character, but had to lure people back from spending all their money via the internet.

Mr Wilkinson said Dunedin would need to make sure residents prioritised their spending in town, and that came back to making sure the town centre was attractive.

Retail was now intrinsically tied to hospitality, he said.

"You don't need to buy a shirt every day but you will need to buy a coffee. And it's about making sure those businesses are spaced really well through town, that their offer is aspirational, that people want to be part of it."

He said the time was right for Heart of Dunedin, though he warned it should not be seen as a lobby group, but as a guardianship group for central Dunedin.

Dunedin city councillor David Benson-Pope was elected three years ago on a promise to clean up the central city and he said the new group was just what the city needed.

He said the council had just delayed by a year a much-needed $37 million project to upgrade the CBD, but retailers could help.

He said he would suggest retailers make a contribution to speed up the upgrade as was done in the last upgrade in the 1980s and 1990s.

Heart of Dunedin said it had 40 members so far, and was aiming for 100.

Some prime retail spots on Dunedin's main street remain empty.

Retail spaces for lease on George Street, Dunedin Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

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